How To Protect Yourself From Ticks While Hiking

Have you ever wondered how to protect yourself from ticks while hiking, but aren’t quite sure which advice you should follow?

Don’t let the fear of ticks keep you from enjoying the outdoors!

We’ve compiled all of the best tips to keep you safe from these annoying little bloodsuckers on your next hiking adventure.

What Are Ticks?

Ticks are eight-legged bugs that feed on their hosts by burrowing their head into the skin and sucking on their blood.

Closeup of tick
8-legged sack of blood with a head, or: A Tick

They come in two different forms, hard ticks and soft ticks, each with their own unique mouth structures.

Where Do Ticks Live?

Ticks prefer warm, humid weather, but they can be found all over the world. They live in grassy, wooded areas and can often be found under a pile of leaves or crawling on a bush.

They can survive in cooler climates if there are enough hosts available and the humidity is high enough.

How Do Ticks Get Onto Your Body?

Ticks have incredible sensory abilities and they use something called Haller’s organs on their front legs to detect a warm-blooded host. Once the organs know that a host is nearby, they prepare to grab onto any body part they can, usually the legs since they’re closest to the ground.

When a tick is on you, it will either start burrowing into your skin right away, or it will crawl up your body until it finds an area where the skin is thinner, like the underarm or ear.

Despite the common misconception that ticks can jump, they are actually only able to crawl.

Where Are You Most Likely To Pick Up Ticks?

You can find ticks in just about any terrain, as long as there is a large population of hosts nearby and the weather conditions are desirable.

Ticks do prefer higher elevations in grassy or wooded areas, but they can also be found in densely-populated areas like beaches, parks, and playgrounds.

While ticks thrive in humidity, they can survive in colder temperatures above 45 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning they can be found year-round in many places.

They are most active in the spring and summer when ticks emerge from their nymph stage and begin seeking out warm-blooded hosts.

Common Varieties of Ticks

Ticks come in 9 different varieties, three of which are well-known for biting humans. The most common ticks are:

  • Blacklegged Tick
  • Lone Star Tick
  • American Dog Tick
  • Brown Dog Tick
  • Groundhog Tick
  • Gulf Coast Tick
  • Rocky Mountain Wood Tick
  • Soft Tick
  • Western Blacklegged Tick

The first three varieties, Blacklegged, Lone Star, and Dog, are the ones you are most likely to find hiding in the woods when you go hiking.

Illnesses Ticks Can Cause

Since ticks feed on the blood of their hosts when they bite, they can easily spread diseases as their mouthparts come into contact with one creature’s blood and then transfer bugs to the next creature they bite… which could be you!

Ticks can cause many different illnesses and diseases, but they are most known for transmitting Lyme Disease.

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that can cause mild symptoms like a headache, bullseye rash, fever, and tiredness.

If left untreated, Lyme disease can spread to other areas of the body, like the organs and joints, and cause severe symptoms like:

  • Neck stiffness
  • Joint pain and swelling
  • Heart problems
  • Vertigo
  • Brain inflammation
  • Tingling in the extremities

Ticks can also cause other illnesses, like the Powassan virus, Heartland virus, Bourbon virus, Southern tick-associated rash illness, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and Colorado tick fever virus.

They are, put simply, disgusting little creatures!

How to Protect Yourself from Ticks

Protecting yourself from tick bites is the best way to prevent tick-borne illnesses.

A tick on a hand
A blood-swollen tick on a person’s hand

There are several things you can do to protect yourself from these bugs when you’re out hiking.

Methods of Protecting Yourself

Since ticks mainly live in grassy, wooded areas, avoiding these as much as possible is the first step in preventing tick bites. You can also:

  • Wear an insect repellent containing DEET, permethrin, or picaridin
  • Wear pants that are tucked into your socks
  • Wear light-colored clothing so ticks are easier to detect
  • Check yourself thoroughly for ticks after every hike
  • Shower as soon as you get home
  • Wash your clothing in hot water and drying on the highest setting upon returning home

How to Remove Ticks Safely and Effectively

It’s important to remove a tick as quickly as possible and to remove it completely. Follow these steps, recommended by the CDC, to remove a tick safely and effectively.

1. Using tweezers, grip as close to the base of the tick as possible
2. Pull upward firmly and evenly, taking care not to leave any of the tick’s head or mouthparts behind
3. If the head remains in the skin, try using the tweezers to remove it. If it still won’t budge, clean the area thoroughly and allow the head to fall out on its own
4. Upon removal, clean and disinfect the area with hot, soapy water and rubbing alcohol
5. Dispose of the tick properly by wrapping it in a tightly-sealed bag or container and throwing it in the garbage, or flushing it down the toilet

You may be on a multi-day hike when you collect your first tick, so you need to be prepared to deal with them on the trail. These are the items you should carry in your hiking backpack to manage tick bites as you go:

  • Fine-tipped tweezers
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Antibacterial ointment
  • Ziploc bag for disposal

Symptoms to Look for and When to Call a Doctor

After you’ve removed a tick, you’ll want to watch the area for several days for signs of infection or a bullseye rash, which can be indicative of Lyme disease.

You should also contact a doctor if you develop any other symptoms of a tick-borne illness, including:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Fever
  • Dizziness
  • Full-body rash
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Neck stiffness

Treatment may include antibiotics and supportive care for the fever and body aches. If treated early enough, most people will have a full recovery from tick-borne illnesses.

Final Thoughts

There are many things you can do to protect yourself from ticks while hiking. There are also steps you can take to heal if you are bitten by a tick.

Follow these tips for a successful hiking trip:

  • Wear appropriate clothing
  • Wear insect repellent
  • Avoid tall grass and wooded areas
  • Carry tweezers and other tick-removal essentials in your bag
  • Check yourself thoroughly for ticks after a hike
  • Shower immediately upon returning home
  • Wash and dry any clothing worn during your hike
  • Remove any ticks immediately
  • Watch for signs of a tick-borne illness

Now that you know all about ticks and the illnesses they can cause, go enjoy your next hiking adventure without fear of running into these pesky little parasites.